BUCHA, Ukraine—Ihor Yuschenko, 61, a former colonel in the Ukrainian Armed Forces who once served as Deputy Chief of Staff of the Ground Forces in Donbass, eastern Ukraine, watched in horror as a crime of war happen right outside his window in broad daylight.
According to Yuschenko, a column of Russian troops advancing through the city stopped and opened fire on his street in central Bucha on February 27, killing two pedestrians. This column included Chechen fighters known as Kadyrovtsy, members of various military groupings loyal to Chechnya’s local strongman, Ramzan Kadyrov, known as “Putin’s soldier”. Yuschenko said he was able to identify them by their black attire, their use of Islamic slogans and Kadyrov’s name on their body armor.
About an hour later their column was decimated by the Ukrainian army in another part of town, but the Kadyrovtsy returned. “Many Chechen soldiers entered this street to kill Ukrainian civilians,” Yuschenko told The Daily Beast.
He described how Chechen fighters, also dressed in black, fired at a car driving down the street with at least “thirty bullets”, according to Yushchenko, killing its occupants and pinning it to the side of the road. next to the building in which he resided. The Kadyrovtsy then allegedly dragged the two people who were shot and killed out of the car, left them on the side of the road and took the car themselves.
Yuschenko’s mother, Zina Yehorovna, her friend Pavel Kondratyev and her neighbor Bogdan each confirmed these events to The Daily Beast. According to Bogdan however, the Chechens then hit a civilian who was trying to flee the scene with the car, leaving him hanging from the bonnet of the car before sliding down the street.
“They just shot them.”
“It’s just a war crime what they did here,” Yuschenko said, standing next to the bench the car crashed into after the Kadyrovtsy was allegedly attacked him. “This is not war.”
Artem Hurin, a member of the city council from the nearby town of Irpin who is also the deputy commander of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces, was one of the first people to visit Bucha after the Russians withdrew. There he heard many stories from locals about life in neighborhoods like Yablonska Street, where a group of Kadyrovtsy who were supposed to advance on kyiv were stationed.
According to Hurin, Ukrainian civilians were not the only people the Kadyrovtsy allegedly brutalized in the city. Hurin said locals he spoke to in Borodyanka, which is northwest of Bucha, told of what the Kadyrovtsy had done with the wounded Russian soldiers they had brought from Bucha. “They were bringing badly wounded Russian soldiers to a big hospital they had there, and the very badly wounded ones, they were shooting at them,” he told the Daily Beast. “And no one but the Kadyrovtsy did this.”
Eyewitnesses alleged that Kadyrovtsy had executed people as early as March 5, and Bucha Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk said Chechen units tied white bands around prisoners’ arms that were similar to those found on the bodies of executed civilians. Hurin said he saw evidence of executions and torture on bodies he found on the street, and spoke to a woman who endured four days of torture at the hands of a Kadyrovtsy fighter and a Belarusian soldier before they shot her husband in the head.
“They didn’t allow them to do anything. There they just killed people with binoculars for example,” Hurin said, describing what happened to people who tried to leave their homes to get food and water. “They just shot them.”
He also confirmed earlier reports of a local base at a glass factory on Yablonska Street, which Ukrainian Human Rights Ombudsman Lyudmila Denisova mentioned served as a torture chamber operated by Russians and Chechens.
According to the Kyiv Oblast police, the bodies of around 1,150 civilians have been found across the Kyiv region since the withdrawal of Russian forces in late March and early April. In Bucha alone, more than 400 people have been found dead so far, most of whom were killed by the city’s Russian occupiers over the course of several weeks in March before their withdrawal from the city on April 1.
But accounts like Yuschenko’s provide evidence that indiscriminate violence against civilians was part of the Russian military‘s playbook in Bucha from almost the very beginning of the war itself, with the Chechen Kadyrovtsy playing a key role in brutality from the start – against local residents and their own fellow soldiers alike. Much remains unknown about Chechen activity in Bucha, but new details and testimonies from residents and local authorities provide a clearer picture of the brutal presence of Chechen forces in the town and their involvement in the crimes of war that lasted for weeks against Bucha. residents.
Evidence on social media, testimonials from residents and documents seized by kyiv Oblast police suggest that Kadyrovtsy’s regiments in Bucha most likely belonged to the Special Rapid Response Unit (SOBR) and OMON (Special Purpose Mobile Unit), and that these units, along with other Russian troops, were likely responsible for a significant part of the massacre that took place there.
According to independent security analyst Harold Chambers, a specialist in the North Caucasus, this type of personal violence committed by Kadyrovtsy in Bucha is no surprise.
“What they have experience with, in terms of military operations, is really those zachistkithese mop-ups,” Chambers said, speaking of a brutal style of house-to-house searches and killings that Russian forces perfected during the Chechen wars in the 1990s and early 2000s. part of their specialty of targeting civilian populations, and from the stories we’ve already heard from Bucha, that’s really what was happening.”
Despite being in Bucha at the end of February, Russian forces were unable to take full control of the town until several days later or after March 2. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense has identified the 64th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade as one of the Russian military forces. groups responsible for the ensuing massacre in Bucha throughout March, but evidence suggests they were not the only ones involved.
According to Andriy Halavin, the priest of the Church of the Holy Apostle St. Andrew the First Called in Bucha, where a mass grave for about 280 people was dug during the Russian occupation, regiments including SOBR and OMON units started to replace the original occupying forces later in March.
“In the beginning, although they were, shall we say, strict, they were fair. At the very beginning, they would just search my car and tell me to continue with my work, and so on,” Halavin said. “But after that, the others came.”
Andriy Nebytov, the Kyiv oblast police chief who is responsible for Bucha, confirmed that SOBR and OMON units were present in the Kyiv region, citing documents seized by his police department that show lists of members of the regiments that had arrived in the region. Because the information will be used in future criminal cases against Russia, his office was unable to provide the list to The Daily Beast, but the documents are seen in a video Nebytov recently released.
On February 27, Ukrainian forces destroyed a large column of vehicles that included Kadyrovtsy on Vokzal’na Street near Bucha Station, which matches Yuschenko’s account of the same day. The column had arrived in the town from Hostomel, which lies just northeast of Bucha, where Hussein Mezhidov, the Chechen commander of the “Yug” battalion of the 141st Special Motorized Regiment which forms the backbone of the Kadyrovtsy, was seen in a video on February 26.
“This situation was the greatest terror of my life.”
According to Chambers, the Chechen unit most likely to be present in Bucha on February 27 was the SOBR group “Akhmat”. Nevertheless, Chambers noted that the mode of organization of the Kadyrovtsy around Kyiv makes it particularly difficult to identify specific groups of fighters who fought on this front.
“The Kadyrovtskys don’t seem to fight as much in bounded units, they seem to work more in combined groups,” Chambers said. “You have a lot of overlapping commanders, so it seems less clear how the units were actually separated.”
Militarily and strategically, Kadyrovtsy deployed in Kyiv Oblast served several purposes – some groups were designed to be strike teams to assassinate Ukrainian President Zelensky and his family if they could get to Kyiv, but according to Michael Kofman, Director of the Russian Studies Program at the NAC, the main focus of these units was broader.
“The Chechens have a real purpose. The Russian army needs manpower,” Kofman said. He added that the Kadyrovtsy were supposed to be deployed in the cities, in particular in Kyiv, in order to support the soldiers of the Eastern Military District, supposed to maintain the blockade of the capital, and to fight alongside the airborne units in the city limits. .
“So those Chechen units and auxiliaries were really important for the urban combat, because a lot of other units that they would send were short on manpower,” he said.
In the end, none of this happened, and the Kadyrovtsy, along with other Russian units, were left on their own and given carte blanche to allegedly abuse and slaughter the people of Bucha for decades. weeks, as people like Yuschenko have seen first hand. Yuschenko said all his years of military service paled in comparison to his experiences in the city.
“There you know where the front line is, you know where the threats can come from,” Yuschenko said of his time fighting in eastern Ukraine. “It was much scarier than Donbass. From lieutenant, to platoon commander, to deputy chief of staff, this situation has been the greatest terror of my life.